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Bordeaux 2015: First Taste

Monday was a fascinating day with, as planned, a mix of visits taking in tastings of 2013 Bordeaux, a poke around the cellars looking at how the embryonic 2015 vintage is doing, and some visits to hitherto unfamiliar domaines.

I kicked off proceedings at Château Haut-Bailly, where after a tasting of the 2013 vintage (first and second wines) I joined winemaker Gabriel Vialard in the cellars to hear about the 2015 harvest and vinifications so far. We tasted from a lot of vats, including old-vine Merlot, young-vine Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. So here goes with the first-ever tasting note on 2015 you are likely to read:

Vat #1: Young-vine Merlot (pictured below). Planted in 2006. Not long finished maceration. Full and sweet, grippy, textured, with a big, firm structure in the finish.
Vat #2: Old-vine Merlot. Dark, spicy, and surprisingly perfumed for this variety. Exciting, creamed fruit, spicy like the nose.
Vat #3: Cabernet Franc. From 50-year old vines. Gabriel found this cuve to be very aromatic during remontage, with a prominent raspberry aroma. Dark and profound now. Perfumed, violets, creamy-textured fruit, spicy too.
Vat #4: Petit Verdot. From 3-year old vines, newly planted, their first vintage. A dense hue, almost black. A classic Petit Verdot nose, pencil shavings, spicy, perfumed just a little. Tannic but it is ripe, with a spicy, acid-cleansed finish.
Vat #5: Cabernet Sauvignon – the first vat to finish fermentation. From vines managed using organic methods. Softly textured, despite this being Cabernet. Lovely freshness and acid zip here, with a soft grip in the finish.

Bordeaux 2015

You can’t extrapolate from cuve samples to a wine with any validity, and you certainly can’t make a judgement on the vintage. But what I will say is these individual samples tasted better than anything I tasted from 2011, 2012 and 2013, and in themselves they taste more complete than many wines I have tasted from 2014 as well. There is certainly a huge potential in this vintage, but we will have to wait for the primeurs to taste anything other than components and half-made wines, and to make a more ‘formal’ judgement. But 2015 seems likely to cause some excitement – “everybody in Bordeaux is really happy with 2015″ is the stock phrase of the moment (I must have heard it half-a-dozen times since I arrived), and tasting these samples I can understand why.

I will give more detail on this visit and Gabriel’s comments in the vintage in a later post, this is just a taster. Thereafter it was on to Château Haut-Brion, where I tasted 2013s, and Château Pape-Clément where again I tasted 2013s, and had a quick tour of the various cuveries and cellars (I have never looked around here before – there is an impressive cellar of large formats). Lunch was on the road before I rolled up at Château Reynon to meet Denis Dubourdieu for a tasting of his wines and basically just to chew the cud with the man himself. This was a château I haven’t visited before, and I am grateful to Denis for his insights into Bordeaux terroir, and for the tasting of Château Reynon, Clos Floridène, Château Cantegril and Château Doisy-Daëne.

I finished the day in sweet mode, first calling in at Château d’Yquem to taste the 2013 with the winemaker, the absolutely charming and very helpful Sandrine Garbay, and then I concluded my visits at Château de Cérons, where I spent an hour or two with proprietor Xavier Perromat and his wife Christine. Xavier and Christine have only secured possession of the property in the last three years, so it was fascinating to hear of their grand projects for improving the estate. They have 30 hectares of vines, which includes 27 hectares for Graves (and the wines are very pleasant) and 3 hectares for Cérons, a significant chunk of the 21 hectares eligible for this appellation in all Bordeaux (surely the region’s smallest appellation by far?). Well, I did say I was going to spend some time off the beaten cru classé track during this visit.

Later today (Tuesday), Château Pontet-Canet, Château Montrose and more big names, and also off-piste again with a couple of left-bank cru bourgeois estates.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Starting at Thieuley

There’s a change to the usual programme of updates on Winedoctor this week, as I have left behind the cold and damp weather of Scotland, and moved south…..to the cold and damp weather of Bordeaux.

After last week’s Bordeaux 2013 tasting in London I thought I would come to Bordeaux and expand my knowledge of this vintage, the most recent to be bottled. And so over the next few days I have a number of visits lined up to see what the crème de la crème of Bordeaux have achieved in this, the most trying vintage for thirty years. Visits include Château Haut-Brion, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château L’Église-Clinet, Château Lafleur and more than a handful of others, so add that all to my tastings from last week and I should have a fairly comprehensive overview by the time I am done.

Château Thieuley

I won’t be concentrating purely on 2013 though; I’m not that much of a masochist. I also want to hear how 2015 went, and so I will be finding out first-hand as and when I can. I think now is a good time to check; the harvest is more or less done (a good job too – it has been pouring down for most of yesterday), the wines are busy fermenting, and there is perhaps a little less guess work involved than there is looking at bunches of grapes on the vine and crossing your fingers that the weather will hold. So hopefully I will get some good reports; I will be sure to hear how Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer has done, now in its second year of biodynamics, among others.

And there’s a third objective to the week. Critics love coming to Bordeaux because we are all like moths to the flame, drawn in by the bright lights of the cru classé châteaux (just look at the names so far mentioned in this post). But I have long harboured a desire to expand Bordeaux coverage on Winedoctor beyond purely this very top level, something that is easier said than done as it can take more than a week to get round just these leading domaines, leaving no time for ‘lesser’ names. This week will be different though. I started yesterday (yes, a visit on a Sunday, who would have thought?) by calling in on Marie Courselle of Château Thieuley (pictured above, under the rather bleak skies of Bordeaux), and during the next few days I have visits lined up to several left-bank cru bourgeois estates, properties in Graves, Cadillac, Cérons and on the peripheries of St Emilion, a couple in Fronsac and even a Pomerol domaine making waves with a generic AoC project I want to cover. It should be a fascinating week – and all will be written up in full on Winedoctor in good time.

The upshot is that I won’t have time to update the site this week with new profiles or tasting updates, but I will be posting daily blogs on where I have been, and what I have been up to. For the moment though I must dash – it’s Château Haut-Bailly at 09:30, and Château Haut-Brion after that.

Oh, and by the way, this isn’t a press trip. I have drawn up my own programme and made all my own appointments and arrangements, so I work free of other people’s agendas. I have accepted some nights in left- and right-bank châteaux to keep costs down, and all declarations of such assistance received will be made in association with relevant articles, and in my end of year summary.

Montlouis and Bourgueil, New Maison des Vins

Fascinating news from Tours. The two biggest appellations to have left InterLoire, Montlouis and Bourgueil, have come together to take over the old Maison des Associations Culturelles on the Place Plumereau, in the old quarter of town (I have fond memories of the old quarter, having stayed there for a couple of nights on my first ever trip to the Loire Valley in the early 1990s).

There is a long history behind the story, but being brief both the Montlouis syndicat (led by François Chidaine, pictured below) and the Bourgueil syndicat (led by Guillaume Lapaque, no picture, my apologies to Guillaume, who I have met several times) left InterLoire, disillusioned with paying subscriptions and not seemingly getting value for money (as you might imagine, there is probably a lot of detail to be explored there, but that will have to do for the moment). This leaves them looking after their own publicity now, something Bourgueil (which left first) has done quite well with I think (with the annual Bourgeuillotherapie bash, for example) while Montlouis (which left much more recently) are playing catch up a little.

François Chidaine

The new accommodation in the centre of Tours will function as a window for their wines, hopefully drawing in Loire tourists (as I once was). It will act as a shop, cellar and bar, a complete Maison des Vins. And so visitors to Tours in future may well end up becoming better acquainted with the wines of Montlouis than of Vouvray, despite the latter being literally on their doorstep. Whether or not Françios Chidaine and Jacky Blot could pour their Vouvrays here for customers would be a moot point (it is funded by the Montlouis and Bourgueil syndicats, after all, so should be showcasing only these wines) …… except of course the recent Vouvraygate affair means they no longer have any Vouvray to pour anyway, only Montlouis and Vin de France.

The two appellations hope to open the new Maisons des Vins in spring 2016. I wish them the best of luck.

For more information (in French), see this report in La Nouvelle Republique.

Loire 2015 Harvest: Francois Lieubeau Reports

Another harvest report now, this time from François Lieubeau (pictured below), of Domaine de la Fruitière (and a handful of other domaines also). I have chosen to post it here because, as with others, there is some interesting background information in it, and no hyperbole (not that I would mind a little hyperbole coming out of Muscadet now ahd again). François starts with a few words on 2015, before talking about recent developments at the domaine.

“The vintage 2015 grapes have now all reached the Domaine de Fruitière and the wines are now fermenting.

After a relatively cool winter, no spring frost, and especially a perfect flowering, July and August have been warm and dry.

In early September the last maturity checks let us expect an extraordinary vintage, on the standards of 1990 or 2009, Pays Nantais’ anthologies.

But in the last summer days, a short period of rain came, refreshing the vineyard and delaying maturity. In the end of September, we concluded the last days’ harvest by hand, under a bright sun.

François Lieubeau

It is often said that these conditions reveal the good growers. The work throughout the year in the vineyard by Pierre, Vincent and the team had great results: short pruning, working the soil and / or natural grass cover, care of the vines. In particular, this year extension of “palissage” and deleafing played beautifully, allowing us to maintain a perfect sanitary state, stretch the dates, and therefore harvest at the best maturity. Our technical investments, combined with the organization of the team let us vinify the entire Fruitière vineyard with skin contact in order to further develop aromatics and fruit driven wines. Also, under Vincent’s leadership, we have imported a qualitative press process from Champagne, generalized juice fractioning (unique in the Muscadet region). Finally, all the “classics” (IGP white, rosé and classic Muscadet) have been made in a reductive process under full protection against oxygen in order to keep a maximum of aromatic freshness. Finally, the 2015 vintage offers a beautiful alcohol / acidity balance and great aromatic potential with yields still in the low average (due to wood diseases).

Even more meticulous care has been taken into the culture and harvest of our vineyards from Crus Château-Thébaud and Clisson, where we are in organic farming conversion. In the vineyard, systematized plowing and a green harvest allowed us to reach perfect maturity while preserving the ecological balance of our plots. At harvest, we have hired 30 pickers to hand harvest all of our plot, a revival of this process in the Famille Lieubeau history. At the winery, these wines are vinified without chaptalisation, and for the first time without sulfites before fermentation and with natural yeasts to keep the most natural expression of their terroir. Vincent and I, in accordance with our parents, have introduced these innovations within the Famille Lieubeau. They are also a revolution in the Pays Nantais.”

It is great to see that it is not just the ‘big names’ that have already gained some fame, such as Pierre Luneau-Papin or Marc Ollivier, who are pushing the quality envelope in Muscadet. Here we have minimal intervention winemaking of hand-harvested fruit using natural yeasts, just as we would expect to find at the region’s leading domaines. I look forward to tasting these 2015s, especially those crus communaux wines.

Discovering Bordeaux; Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Yesterday I attended the 2013 Bordeaux tasting at Covent Garden. The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux saddled up for their annual ride into London, and when they do so they usually appear ready to whip everybody into a Bordeaux-buying frenzy with a show of their newest wines. Yesterday’s affair was more muted though; quite a few proprietors seemed fairly circumspect regarding the wines – 2013 was a very difficult vintage, in case you hadn’t realised – and the tasting was the quietest I have seen it, in more than a decade of attending.

I will write a report on the vintage, now in bottle, after my visit to the region next week. First, though, posting my “quiet tasting” comment (with associated photograph of a half-deserted tasting room) on social media produced some interesting discussion, much of it focused on how consumers have turned away from Bordeaux which is perceived by some to offer poor value for money. But one point that I found really interesting concerned how consumers get into drinking Bordeaux. Is it from the bottom up, or from the top down?

It is not uncommon to hear in the trade talk of getting consumers to ‘spend up’. Speaking from a UK perspective, I have seen many brands do this, e.g. some well-known Australian brands snare consumers with good value supermarket bottles before then putting more ‘up market’ (and more pricy) versions into the same retail spots in the hope that buyers will follow the brand. I have also seen entire nations do this, with Chile’s entry into the UK featuring value-end Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir, before they looked to interest consumers with the mid-range (or icon) wines. Perhaps some French regions work in the same manner, buyers learning to trust the region and understand the general style long before they step up to Domaine de Trevallon or Didier Dagueneau, or from premier cru to grand cru Burgundy.

Château Phélan-Ségur

The point was made, however, that Bordeaux is different. With Bordeaux, it was proposed that, in the UK at least, drinkers tend to start at the top, and then work downwards. I hadn’t really thought about this before but for me, personally, this is true. I didn’t get into Bordeaux at the bottom end; during my student days when I was buying cheap I bought mostly Australian, with a few bottles from New Zealand, the Languedoc, even Bulgaria and Romania, no doubt others. Bordeaux just didn’t come to play at this level; I can recall one memorable supermarket-label 1991 AoC Bordeaux, but it was a one-off (and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons). I got into Bordeaux a few years later, when new wine buddies introduced me to classed growth Bordeaux, and so I started adding them to my new cellar (i.e. understairs cupboard). So as I spent up in Australia, buying more pricy (but not super-expensive) mid-range wines from Lindeman’s, Tatachilla and so on, following the prescribed path for consumers, I entered Bordeaux at the top, buying Château Leoville-Barton, Château Pontet-Canet, Château Troplong-Mondot and others. Exploring mid-priced wines came later, as I understood what I liked and then sought good-value wines from Château Meyney, Château Potensac and Château Phélan-Ségur to give me more affordable drinking.

Seeking out wines from more peripheral, more affordable appellations came even later, and remains an occasional pastime, as here and here. These are the points – in Canon-Fronsac and Castillon – that I have drunk down to after more than two decades of drinking Bordeaux. For others, though, they are perhaps entry-points into the region. At least that is what some would propose. How did you get into drinking Bordeaux (if at all)? From the top-down, or the bottom-up?

Loire 2015 Harvest: Charles Sydney Reports

I know you’ve all been waiting for it. The first report from Charles and Philippa Sydney, Loire courtiers extraordinaire. Charles and Philippa work with a wide range of growers, from Muscadet up to Sancerre, and they are always out on the shop floor during harvest. Here is their first take on 2015, as exuberantly informative as ever.

Hello

At last a morning off from tasting grapes as the growers pick across the Loire! It’s pretty well all in, and time to let you know how things are going.

After a hot, dry summer, with drought blocking vegetation in some places, we finally got some rain in September, at last softening skins and letting the grapes really ripen.

The only ‘hic’ is that quantities are down pretty well everywhere, in part a result of the drought, part too a result of a few cold days at the end of the flowering, especially for Sauvignons from Touraine through Sancerre and Pouilly.

Some growers grumble about lowish acidities, but everywhere we tasted, the juice had that tang of freshness behind the concentration. Some people are never happy!

Given the great summer, it was not surprising to see picking start early – but it was a first to see some growers in Sancerre finish just as others in Muscadet were starting! Normally we kick off with Muscadet then things head east, with the Touraine a week later and Sancerre a week after that. This year saw growers picking in the Touraine on the 1st September, the Sancerre ‘*ban de vendanges*’ on the 9th – while on the 10th we still had Muscadet producers (Fruitière, Choblet, Sauvion) wondering how much longer they could wait!

Overall, quality looks exceptional.

Muscadet: yields OK-ish, averaging just under 50 hectos/hectare, which for them is good but still about 10% down on what we’d have liked. The harvest was smart, a little rot towards the end as expected, but loads of lovely gold grapes and liquid gold juice reflecting the sunny growing period. Ripeness is good, with a smart balance of freshness. The rain mid-September dropped average degrees a touch, so some growers had to chaptalise a bit. That’s fine by me – 2015 looks to be a lovely vintage.

Loire 2015

Touraine: Quality looks exceptional across the region – lovely healthy grapes, nice degrees, balanced acidity and super concentrated juice. The big bugbear is yields that were zapped by coulure post flowering, leaving an average yield of around 40 hectos/hectare for the Sauvignons. The 2015s are going to be brill, but if you still have reserves of 2014s, don’t let go!

Sancerre & Pouilly: 2015 looks hard to beat for quality – with an interesting comparison with 2006, which we noted the local Sicavac oenologists as rating ‘somewhere between 2005 and 1989 in quality’. Again, the ‘hic’ is quantity. At an average 50-55 hectos per hectare, it’s around 10 – 15% below normal, at a time when stocks are at an all time low.

Reds: There are two theoretical approaches to picking, depending on whether the grower wants to pick ‘fruit frais’ (fresh fruit) or ‘fruit mûr’ (ripe fruit). Some growers seem happy at having an excuse to pick early (we see unripe plots being picked first) while we know the potential that can be achieved with great vineyard management techniques. In our opinion, the real stars have only just started picking – and there the quality should be extraordinary.

Pinots: Looking fab too – maybe even better than last year!! We all know the handful of guys who push the limits in Sancerre, but it’s wonderful to see Sylvain Miniot down at the Cave in St Pourçain pushing his growers to get full ripeness. He’s still the one to watch.

Finally, Chenin Blanc.

Vouvray and Montlouis: The potential is lovely, so it’s still a shame to see over 2/3rds of the crop going to make sparkling. The guys who concentrate on making ‘real’ wines are on a high – look at the photos and see the gold chenin crinkling as it starts to concentrate and then going brown and raisiny. There should be some smart moelleux this year.

Loire 2015

Anjou and the Layon: Here the saga is just starting. Late last week saw the great growers starting to pick the dry whites – and doing a first ‘clean-up’ *tri* to get the rest of the crop ready to concentrate in ideal conditions. We have never seen such beautifully run vineyards as René and Christophe Papin’s Les Rouannières plot…. they’re clearly going even further than the great daddy Claude Papin.

There’s a photo of a mustimètre showing around 22° potential – hard to be sure as it stops marking at 18°. And that’s just a ‘clean-up’ picking. If the weather holds, we could be in for a truly great vintage.

With apologies for the exuberance – and a final report to come once we finish tasting end December.

Charles and Philippa

Initially only one of Charles’ photographs came through, but I have since added a second, one of the juice from a pre-harvest nettoyage registering 22º, a figure that in itself would be rich enough to make a very nice sweet wine. Sorry, it is far from being the best quality picture that Charles sent, but I included it as it speaks clearly of the potential quality of the vintage.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albarino 2014

A couple of months ago I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal, and the best drinking I found when there was Vinho Verde. I particularly enjoyed some of the single-variety Alvarinho cuvées, from the likes of Soalheiro and Palácio da Brejoeira among others. I wrote up some tasting notes at the time, here: A New Vinho Verde.

And then a couple of weeks ago, this bottle arrived. Same variety, different country.

Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño 2014

Although I’m no expert on Rias Baixas I do know that Lagar de Cervera is the Galician outpost of La Rioja Alta, for a long time one of my favourite Rioja bodegas (I don’t claim any expertise in Rioja either, although I have at least visited the region). The fruit is chilled, pressed, and then tank-fermented, and 50% underwent malolactic fermentation, followed by some time on the lees. The 2014 Lagar de Cervera Rias Baixas Albariño has a pale hue, and a richly expressed nose, full of pithy citrus notes, as well as cool white peach flesh and also a lightly saline suggestion. There are some slightly bitter edges to the palate which I like, with flavours of lime, mint, perfumed white peach and white currant. It feels savoury, tense, bright, textured but cool with a steely core. I wouldn’t have guessed there was 50% malolactic fermentation here for sure. Overall very good, and it would stand up very well to all those Alvarinhos I tasted. Under screwcap. 16.5/20 (October 2015)

Disclosure: This bottle was a received sample.

Bordeaux 2015 Harvest: Report from Smith-Haut-Lafitte

I get quite a lot of harvest news dropping into my inbox. This report from Fabien Teitgen of Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte is so detailed, and although it presents a lot of positive information it is refreshingly free of hyperbole (no comparisons to 2010, 2009 or 2005 – I’ve read them all during the past few weeks), that it seemed a crime not to bring it to the blog. It’s a report on the entire growing season as well as the picking, beginning with the 2014/2015 winter rainfall.

“Weather conditions during winter (temperatures and rainfall), within decade average, refilled soil reserves after two rainy years. Then temperatures rose at the end of March and we had a homogeneous and quick budbreak in early April (classical dates).

In March we embarked into a phase of hydric limitation until the end of July with a total of 144 mm against 311 decade average. Moreover temperatures slightly higher than decade average in April and May fastened the vine growing cycle leading to a homogeneous, fast and quite early flowering.

The scorching episode at the end of June beginning of July did not cause any harm to the grapes that were still green at the date and well-protected behind their leaves. We decided it was not year of early leaves-thinning at Vinexpo…

The other consequence of this warmth-drought combination was the early end of vine growing and therefore the early beginning of grape maturation with skins thickening and an important polyphenol accumulation (tannins and color) within them. It also generated a hydric stress on young vines: we even had to irrigate some plants as now allowed. Our old vines, well deeply rooted in our soils of gunzian gravels, were able of find freshness and humidity to safely go through this period. The hydric stress, both early and moderated, is the key of great maturations.

Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte

At the end of July beginning of August, we moved to a low-pressure episode. Freshness and moderated rainfall were welcomed. The véraison was then triggered the last week of July for whites, first of August for reds, with good homogeneity according to terroir type of each plot.

Homogeneous characteristics of budbreak, flowering and veraison: signs of quality and characteristics of the 2015 vintage!

The decrease of temperatures in August that went on in September during the grapes maturation phase considerably modified the aroma style of our berries, preserving the acidities and a very “Bordeaux” aromatic freshness.

The maturation phase started early, went on peacefully with moderated temperatures yet sunny beautiful days in September. The vines were balanced with a green leaves canopy as we never saw at Smith Haut Lafitte at this season of the year.

The harvest of white grapes started on the 31st of August with young vines of Sauvignon Blanc (13.2% potential, pH 3.2) with very fresh aromas of grapefruit, lemon… a beautiful start. The plots of first wine starting on the 7th of September, with similar balances, offered more complexity and greatness: dense juices, concentrated with a stronger acidity perception than what forecasted the pH measures and very beautiful aroma complexity of yellow fruits (peach, fresh mango), citrus fruits (lemon, white grapefruit), flowery notes of lime-tree, acacia… The harvest of Sauvignon Blanc ended on the 15th of September: only 8 days of Sauvignon Blanc harvest, which is very short at SHL. Sauvignon Gris were harvested on the 14th of September (full-body and rich in this vintage) and we finished the whites with Semillons on the 18th.

The harvest of white grapes at SHL were early and very short (17 days instead of 23 days in 2014) which is a direct consequence of the homogeneity of the vine cycle, sign of great quality for the vintage.

The first lots of white finished their fermentation. We observe the first balances that are more acidic than what we thought while tasting the juices; which is indeed very positive for our white wines that combine good matter and volume underlined by a great acidity. The aroma profiles are still very blurred by recent fermentations, by indigenous yeasts, so we forecast very pretty things…

The harvest of reds started with young vines of Merlot on the 14th of September, which is quite late for an early vintage, to finish on the 1st of October. We notice the homogeneity of flowering and veraison in the short picking period (one week less than 2014). The weather conditions at the beginning of September were perfect, average daytime temperatures of 24,3°C, average night temperatures lower than 12°C, limited rainfall of 27 mm in September (compared with over 100 mm in the Médoc), for optimum maturation of our older Merlots: their juices are ripe, full, rich with good acidity (13.5%, pH 3.55) and beautiful fresh red fruits… wonderful Merlots. We started our Cabernets with 130 harvesters yesterday on the 5th of October. Skins are perfectly mature, pips are crunchy like dry wood and we think we will finish harvests Monday 12th or Tuesday 13th of October with our traditional Gerbaude on the 16th.”

Great to know that the Cabernet harvest is underway. I’m looking forward getting some first-hand information when I fly out there myself, in a little over a week.

Vouvraygate

I have reflected for some time on the recent debacle in Vouvray and Montlouis involving Jacky Blot and François Chidaine. If you’re not up to speed with the issue, in a nutshell both have been vinifying their Vouvray in their cellars in Husseau (Montlouis), Jacky for many years, François more recently. Neither are in the zone where vinification is permitted carte blanche, but Jacky held documents which permitted him to vinify in Montlouis, while François seems to have operated under the assumption that he could do the same. Both make excellent wines, and François has control over the Clos Baudoin, one of the most highly regarded terroirs of Vouvray, so these aren’t guys hanging around on the periphery of the appellation. They have been making waves in recent years, Jacky seemingly buying up half of Montlouis, François building a new winery and taking on the old Poniatowski domaine (which is how he came by the Clos Baudoin).

Then, seemingly out of the blue, a few weeks ago word came from the INAO; their domaines in Montlouis were outside the zone where vinification of Vouvray was permitted, therefore they would be denied the appellation, from the 2014 vintage onwards. There is always the (necessarily expensive) legal route, of course, but barring that both Jacky’s and François’ Vouvrays would, from 2014, have to be sold as Vin de France. To see how the story first came to light, see this post on Jim’s Loire, and a subsequent report in La Nouvelle Republique.

Jacky Blot

So why the reflection? Well, as much as I revel in the free spirit and disregard for authority exhibited by many vignerons, I also believe that the appellation system is basically a good thing. This is a thought that will horrify the likes of Richard Leroy and many others, who believe the system favours dull, generic, boring wines made using questionable chemically-dependent methods, while sidelining wines of real interest. In explaining his beliefs, one sufficiently strong for him to personally ditch the appellation system altogether and go down the Vin de France route, Richard makes many good points. But I don’t believe we would be better off if the appellation system were scrapped altogether; it gives a valuable framework for wine, which is a vital slice of Ligérian culture, along with Renaissance châteaux, tarte tatin and the most magnificant moustaches in the world of wine. So I think we need to be careful when it comes to regulations such as this.

There is also a danger when it comes to the INAO and their appellations of picking and choosing which regulations we view as important, and which ones vignerons are ‘right’ to ignore. We’re all guilty of this to some degree. After all, we enjoy the benefits of living in a modern society which functions because of well-established laws, and that’s great until, of course, it is us that comes a cropper with a parking fine, a speeding ticket or some other minor infringement. Then, suddenly, the law is an ass! When it comes to Jacky (pictured above) and François (pictured below) vs. the INAO, the weight of public opinion would perhaps be on their side. But what about the INAO vs. Olivier Cousin, who stuck two fingers up at the authorities with the labelling and naming of his wines? What about the INAO vs. Florent Baumard, and new regulations pushed through despite his protests? I would argue that the first two are minor infringements that would and could be settled through negotiation (if the infringement is really the heart of the matter). The latter I believe was a more serious winemaking issue that failed to respect a hallowed terroir. But that’s just my opinion, and I know others view some of these recent controversies quite differently.

François Chidaine

So what is the issue here? Grapes are loaded onto a truck or trailer in Vouvray and driven cross-river to a winery in Husseau in Montlouis, by road a distance of about 11 km. Montlouis, sadly, isn’t one of the communes where vinification of Vouvray is permitted. So this is the crime in a nutshell; the grapes cross an arbitrary line, drawn by the human hand. In terms of what actually happens to the fruit, however, it is no different to Claude Papin moving grapes from Savennières to his winery in Pierre Bise for vinification (about 8 km). Indeed, should a vigneron as far away as Brissac-Quincé buy some vines in Savennières, he too could do the same, despite being over 20 km from his vines. This is just his good luck; the Savennières line is drawn wide, while that for Vouvray is drawn tight. But none of this will prevent Savennières tasting like Savennières, or Vouvray tasting like Vouvray. The journey does not seem to negatively affect these grapes, even though they are transported by road, and even though they cross the Loire. And isn’t that what the INAO should really be worried about?

The vinificiation of these wines in Montlouis is no great crime. The INAO, with support from within Vouvray (I spoke to two vignerons in the town – I was sorry to hear there was no sympathy for Jacky or François expressed) has chosen to maintain the hard line (not for the first time), sidelining two significant vignerons in the process. The Clos Baudoin, one of the appellation’s most significant terroirs, will now be sold as a Vin de France. It feels rather reminiscent of the Super-Tuscan debacle, when a number of domaines turned out superb wines which, because they flouted regulations on grape variety, started out as Vino da Tavola. Eventually, after two decades, when it became clear that not only were these ‘table wines’ some of the best in the region, but that they also weren’t going to disappear, that they were taken into the fold, the regulations ‘stretched’ to encapsulate them. It is a shame the INAO cannot learn from history and work towards a similar solution. It seems that, sometimes at least, the law really can be an ass.

R.I.P. Claude Lafond, King of Reuilly

There are few appellations that owe their existence to one man, but it could be argued that the appellation of Reuilly, just a stone’s throw from Sancerre, would not be here today if it were not for Claude Lafond. Sadly, I have learnt that Claude (pictured below, during the harvest, October 2013) died at the weekend, on the night of Saturday 3rd October.

Claude Lafond

Claude Lafond joined his father André at a fairly young age, and when André retired in 1977 Claude took on the 6.5 hectares. In a time of great decline for the region, plantings having fallen after phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, Claude’s domaine was a significant chunk of the 48 hectares that survived. His support for the construction of the Chai de Reuilly was instrumental in resurrecting the appellation. His pre-eminent position was secured four years ago when he moved out into swish new facilities, built next door. But the appellation’s future as a whole was also more secure; thanks in part to Claude, today there are 200 hectares planted up in Reuilly.

Claude Lafond

I will always remember my first taste of Claude’s Clos des Messieurs, a 100% Sauvignon cuvée of mind-blowing texture and confidence. Seriously good wine. Reuilly and the Loire Valley will be a slightly dimmer place without the presence of Claude’s brilliant smile and generous character. My condolences to Nathalie Lafond (who has been working alongside her father for the past few years) and family.